Michael O'Neill slams Republic recruitment of young Catholics

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has claimed the Football Association of Ireland targets Catholic players to switch allegiance and play for the Republic.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. Picture: Getty Images

Players born in Northern Ireland are eligible to represent the Republic and O’Neill, who recently penned a contract extension with the Irish Football Association after turning down the Scotland job, is peeved at losing potential future senior internationals to the nation south of the border.

James McClean, Shane Duffy, Darron Gibson, Eunan O’Kane and Marc Wilson – senior internationals with the Republic – all represented Northern Ireland at youth level before they transferred.

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O’Neill has decried the situation by criticising the FAI’s approach. In an interview with the Irish Daily Mail, the Northern Irish boss, who is Catholic himself, said: “The FAI only ever approach one type of player: Catholic.

“I don’t have a problem with James McClean. He was 22 years of age, he knew what he wanted. I have a problem when it’s a 16, 17 or 18-year-old having to make a decision on his international future.

“What is the point of asking a player to change his allegiance, to make a decision about his whole international future, and then not pick him?

“Daniel Devine of Partick Thistle is a West Belfast boy and would have gone to the Euros with us. Only he can’t play for Northern Ireland as he’s signed an international transfer. I can list you ten players who’ve made that decision and have never represented the Republic.”

O’Neill intends to speak with his Republic counterpart Martin O’Neill – himself a former Northern Ireland international – about the situation and said: “I hope Martin and I can get some sort of gentleman’s agreement whereby if a young boy has represented Northern Ireland at aged 17 to 21, the FAI don’t ask him to change.”